Senate Climate Bill Would Send $6B-Plus to Cleaner Transportation

Transportation would receive more than
$6 billion of the revenue generated by selling carbon emissions
permits to fuel providers under a new Senate climate bill introduced
today by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).

Kerry_Lieberman_Graham_Hold_Press_Conference_XOA0hQd5O1Kl.jpgSens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), left, Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), center, and John Kerry (D-MA), right, began their climate talks in December. (Photo: Getty)

That money for infrastructure would be
divided into three equal parts, according to the legislation.
One-third would go into the nation’s cash-strapped highway trust fund
– with a mandate to set aside the funding for projects that
decrease greenhouse gas emissions – while another third would go
towards competitive federal grants in the style of the stimulus law’s
Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER)
program. 

A final third would go towards local land-use planning,
as envisioned in the so-called “CLEAN TEA” bill championed by
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE).

“We want to make this the Senate
where we finish the job and cast the decisive vote for the future,”
Kerry told reporters at a packed Capitol Hill press conference where
veterans’ groups and industry representatives lent their support to
the legislation.

The
climate bill also takes a step towards requiring a set of national
transport objectives – a longtime goal of reform groups – by
giving the U.S. DOT and Environmental Protection Agency one year to
propose “national transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions
goals” as well as unified strategies for states and metro areas to
measure their compliance with those goals.

State
and local transportation planners would then have two more years to
draft plans for emissions reduction, using a variety of strategies
named in the bill, including transit-oriented development, high-speed
rail, zoning changes, and promotion of biking and walking. Any areas
that do not propose plans for reducing transport emissions would be
declared ineligible for the proposed “CLEAN TEA” grants.

The
bill states that emissions allowances set aside for the highway trust
fund “shall be used to promote the safety, effectiveness, and
efficiency of transportation,” specifying that the money should be
used in accordance with the principles of the “CLEAN TEA”
package. But the legislation did not specify how such a firewall
surrounding highway trust fund money would be enforced within the
U.S. DOT.

Nonetheless, transportation reformers hailed the bill as a step forward. "The authord deserve
high praise for ensuring that revenues generated from the transportation sector
go in part toward meeting the growing demand for more, better and cleaner
travel options," Geoff Anderson, co-chairman of the advocacy group Transportation for America, said in a statement.

Carper, in a statement on the bill’s release, said the addition of "CLEAN TEA" language "puts us on the right path to reduce
transportation emissions and oil consumption and improve our nation’s
crumbling transportation infrastructure … I hope we can continue to build bipartisan support for
infrastructure investment as part of the comprehensive climate bill as we
move through the legislative process."

Even
as lawmakers, aides, and advocates picked through the substance of
the nearly 1000-page bill, its political future remained very much in
doubt.

An
aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) warned recently that
the measure may not reach the upper-chamber floor this year unless
Democratic leaders see a path to reaching the 60-vote threshold
necessary to break a certain GOP filibuster. The onetime Republican
cosponsor of Kerry and Lieberman’s effort, Lindsey Graham (SC), did
not appear at today’s unveiling, though he vowed in a statement to
consider the legislation.

We
should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a
political climate which gives us the best chance at success,”
Graham said, reiterating his previous conclusions that the Gulf oil
spill and simmering immigration debate “have made it extremely
difficult for transformational legislation in the area of energy and
climate to garner bipartisan support at this time."

Answering the perception among
many Hill observers that the climate bill’s odds of passage are slim
at best, Kerry decried what he described as an attitude inside the
Beltway that assumes a broad climate bill would be “dead on
arrival, replaced by a watered-down energy bill or nothing at all.”

Nonetheless, Reid indicated
earlier this week in an interview with Univision that he would be
open to moving forward with a smaller energy bill this year that did
not include broad emissions cuts.

The
two senators replaced their initial plan for a linked fee on
carbon-based motor fuels, which became politically toxic for the
White House and Graham after critics branded it a new gas tax, with a
fixed price for emissions permits that oil producers and refiners
would have to purchase at the end of each quarter. Those permits
could not be traded among businesses or “banked” for later use,
and any over- or under-supply would count against the next quarter’s
allocation.

We
took refiners and fuel providers out of the market,” Kerry and
Lieberman’s offices said in a summary of the bill’s transport
section. “Instead of having them participate in the market for
allowances, we made sure the price of carbon was constant across the
industry.”

(ed. note. This post was updated to add comment from Carper’s office.)

  • Komanoff

    It’s both bizarre and disheartening that Transportation for America would endorse the miserable Kerry-Lieberman bill … a bill so lacking in genuine mechanisms to significantly reduce CO2, and so larded with giveaways to every inch of Big Energy: oil, coal, utilities, nukes. (For particulars, see Earth Track’s excellent and easy-to-digest analysis.)

    I guess it shows the capacity of desperate constituencies to be easily seduced by a few crumbs, and to cast a blind eye to the enormous adverse consequences elsewhere.

    The fix is in, of course, and it’s asking too much for otherwise worthy outfits like TfA to pry themselves loose from the Kerry-Lieberman monstrosity. Please, though, let’s desist from calling it a climate bill? It’s not. It’s an energy bill (and a terrible one), plain and simple.

  • Brandi

    I think the $6 Billion for the highway trust fund is kind of funny. I mean I’m not really sure what that has to do with reducing carbon emissions. Especially the statement that it “shall be used to promote the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of transportation.” Well one could easily argue adding 10 lanes to a highway improves its efficiency. Why not replace that part with mass transit or high speed rail? The whole bill seems really convoluted and full of kickbacks. I guess that that is just the nature of politics and the necessities of compromise. Well small steps are better than no steps. At least it will make carbon have a price to it. I hope this can get passed but I’m kind of worried.

  • Moser

    Brandi, the highway trust fund is where federal money for mass transit comes from. The name may be misleading, but it is basically the federal transportation fund. There is a Mass Transit Account within it. A good degree of the “highway” funding is flexible across a wide range of transportation uses as well.

  • K-L will cause ghg emissions to decline 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 – which is what as Obama promised at Copenhagen and which is what is needed to reach an international agreement to limit global warming.

    Doesn’t that make it a climate bill?

  • Does this make Streetsblog mainstream media? Pathetic.

  • Future Schema

    So if the Kerry Lieberman bill has a tough go of it in the Senate, what will be the likelihood of the CLEAN TEA making it through with complimentary language? Seems to me that from a transportation green house gas point of view, they both need to be in effect to really have any impact.

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